Sophie Cook: NAPCRG in “The Big Easy”

I returned from my first North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG) meeting yesterday after a busy five days in New Orleans. As an NAPCRG novice, I was keen to see for myself why this conference continues to expand and draw in new members as well as loyal returners, some of whom have been attending the meetings for decades. Colleagues who had previously attended NAPCRG  spoke enthusiastically about the event, unanimous in describing NAPCRG as one of the more friendly and open meetings of its kind and a great medium for disseminating primary care research ideas, making new friends, and nurturing work relationships. First hand experience of the conference has confirmed these reports, and I can say I’d be glad to be a NAPCRG loyal and look forward to upcoming conferences.

NAPCRG describes itself as “a volunteer association of members committed to producing and disseminating new knowledge from all disciplines relevant to primary care.” This year’s meeting was the biggest yet with over 200 first time attendees. This truly is an international conference, and I met doctors from all over the world. NAPCRG has been running for 40 years, so this anniversary meeting was particularly important for the group as they approach their next decade. Those involved in NAPCRG are clearly very proud of what the organisation has achieved so far and in a Pecha Kucha style plenary session several previous presidents reminded the audience of important changes that have occurred as a result of NAPCRG work. This presentation illustrated how conferences such as this can really lead to practice change.

To welcome first time attendees like me, a session was dedicated to orientating us and explaining the aims of the conference—the messages were simple, enjoy yourself, talk to people, learn from others’ work in a supportive environment and maybe this will lead to future projects and collaborations. After orientation, we were handed the local signature cocktail—a “Hurricane” and a Muffuletta (a traditional New Orleans sandwich) before being introduced to the first poster session. This relaxed and welcoming approach to research was great to experience first hand and New Orleans (otherwise known as “The Big Easy”) seemed a great venue choice for an organisation which is so friendly and laid back.

I was very grateful to the returning members of NAPCRG who made me feel so welcome. Sporting a “first time attendee” badge, I was surprised at how many people came over to ask me where I was from and introduce themselves, something I’ve not experienced at other conferences. The returning members were very welcoming and clearly keen to encourage the new generation of family practitioners and researchers.

Sessions were plentiful, and I spent the first jet lagged night frantically highlighting and scribbling all over the programme to plan out my five days to ensure no clashes or risk of missing the presentations I was keen to see. The poster and presentation sessions covered a wide variety of aspects of primary care including screening for health problems, minimising health disparities between local populations, novel methods of delivering healthcare through technology, and ways to improve coordination of care, as well as more traditional disease or treatment based clinical research projects.

Other highlights included a plenary session by TR Reid, a US reporter and New York Times bestselling book author who talked of his time living around the world and his first hand experience of multiple health care systems. Christopher Dowrick, professor of primary care at Liverpool University, delivered an interesting session on compassion and community and restoring the balance of primary care mental health.

In addition to learning from the varied sessions on offer, the social interaction at NAPCRG was equally educational. I had the opportunity to talk to primary care doctors from several different countries and learn about their healthcare systems. It’s fascinating to learn how although we have similar aims and objectives, the systems in which we deliver care are quite different.

If you’re interested in primary care research I would urge you to consider going to NAPCRG.  Next year you can join them in Ottawa.

Sophie Cook is an assistant editor, BMJ.